Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 1.21-24

What do you know about church? Have you ever thought about what church is? For just a few moments before we turn to our text for today, let me try to sharpen your focus on what is meant in the Bible by the church.

In First Corinthians 12.28, the Apostle Paul stated, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles . . . .” That is the clearest statement in the Bible, but by no means the only statement, that establishes the origin of the church to have been before the Savior chose those twelve men to be His apostles. Therefore, the church was brought into existence by the Lord Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, and into His church He called and God placed the twelve apostles.[1] However, what is the church?[2] The word “church” translates a Greek word, “ekklhsia,” that refers to a called-out group of people. Whenever Greek-speaking people used that Greek word, they referred to a group distinct from a larger population, who were visible, and who could be located geographically. Thus, we see that in the book of Acts, Luke uses the word “ekklhsia” to describe both a rioting mob in the city of Ephesus, as well as the children of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness.[3] The Ephesian mob was distinct from the larger population of the city of Ephesus, they were visible to anyone who was looking, and they were assembled for a time in the city square to protest Paul’s ministry. The Israelites in the wilderness, approximately two and one half million strong, were also a church. Distinct from Gentiles, certainly visible, and at any one point in time occupying a locale, they were the numerically largest church that has ever existed.

Calvary Road Baptist Church is a church in the same sense as was the Ephesus mob and the Israelites in the desert. However, in another sense we are different. In Matthew 16.18, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” As opposed to a group like those enraged pagans in Ephesus, as opposed to a group like the children of Israel in their wanderings before the Savior ever came, the Lord Jesus Christ had His kind of church. Still a church in the sense that His church is distinct from a larger population. Still a church in the sense that His church was visible, you could see those men and women. Still a church in the sense that although they traveled with Him around the country, they were always located somewhere. However, different from all other churches in that this church belonged to Christ, was brought into existence by Christ, and had Christ for its head, for its leader, for its lord. So you see, my friends, there are churches and there are churches. The church of Jesus Christ moved about the countryside with the Master and then located in Jerusalem, never to move from that city again. On the Day of Pentecost, when God sent revival and the baptism of the Holy Spirit took place as it had been predicted by John the Baptist, the church of Jesus Christ grew. Oh, how it grew. Then, over the passing of time, that church of Jesus Christ spawned other churches of Jesus Christ.

Why is a genuine church of Jesus Christ so very important? For only four of many possible reasons: First, a church of Jesus Christ is important because it belongs to the Savior, Matthew 16.18. Second, the church of Jesus Christ is important because Christ is the head of the church, Colossians 1.18. Third, the church of Jesus Christ is important because it is the pillar and ground of the truth, First Timothy 3.15. Fourth, the church of Jesus Christ is important because Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, Ephesians 5.25.

Have you noticed, thus far, that the church is not a conglomeration of all people who claim to be saved? Have you noticed that in the Bible churches are always what we would call local congregations? Have you noticed that the modern concept of the universal invisible church is found nowhere in the Bible, though frequently talked about by many people? My friends, this little background study and refresher course was needed to give you the basis for better understanding the Apostle Paul’s life and ministry. Everything I have told you about the church Paul knew, and more. Further, what Paul knew about the church was one of the truths that moved him to action.

Knowing that Paul loved the Lord Jesus Christ and was totally committed to serving Him, and knowing that Paul correctly understood what place the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to have in each believer’s life and in God’s scheme of things, turn to our text, Philippians 1.21-24. When you find the passage, stand for the reading of God’s Word. As we look at these four verses, what I want you to see is that service to the Savior will be service to the Savior’s church. Not a popular notion in our day of people being unfaithful to their church. Not a popular notion in this day of people thinking that attending one church on Sunday morning and attending somewhere else on Wednesday night can be construed as faithfulness. Not a popular notion in this day of people who practice some aberrant religion not found in the Bible, that I term freelance Christianity. No. Paul’s faith and practice was not like most people today. You see, he loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was seen by his love for the church, not in the abstract, but in the concrete:

21     For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

22     But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.

23     For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:

24     Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

Notice how Paul’s concern for his Savior dictated his course of action to the benefit of the Philippian church:


Verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

What a statement. From what we know of Paul, it was an absolute statement of truth. For Paul, to live was Christ, because Christ was not just his life, Christ was life. He could not envision life apart from Christ. This was because he knew from experience that apart from Christ he had not known life, but was dead in trespasses and sins. However, when he met the Savior he was given life in Christ.

Remember, Paul is now in prison. He could live or he could die, depending on Caesar’s ruling. If he lived, his life would be lived for Christ, as it had always been lived for Christ since his conversion. However, if he died he would gain. How would he gain by dying? Simple. He would be where he longed to be, with his Savior.

Are you a Christian who does not prefer heaven to this present life? That is okay. Not every feeling and hope the Apostle Paul experienced and expressed is what might be called normative. Just because his preference was for heaven does not mean it should be yours. After all, he had a peek into heaven, if you will remember.[4]


Verse 22: “But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.”

Take a quick look at verse 25: “And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.” It is pretty obvious, here, that Paul is of the opinion that the likelihood of him living past Caesar’s ruling is good and that he will someday rejoin the Philippians. If that is so, what is he saying in verse 22?

He is saying a couple of things: First, he is saying that if he lives, and he is certainly not positive at this point that he will live, it will be the fruit of his labor. In other words, though Paul would benefit by either living or dying, his efforts had been to preserve his life. He is working to establish his innocence against the false charges that landed him in prison. Therefore, if he lives, humanly speaking, it would be the result of his efforts; it would be the fruit of his labor. He has worked hard to prove his innocence and has not given up the fight for a moment. However, that is just the first part of the verse. In the second statement, “Yet what I shall choose I wot not,” Paul seems to be telling his readers that what he is fighting for is not necessarily his personal preference. Think about this, people. Here is a man who has already been caught up to heaven. He knows what heaven is like by personal experience, and he is telling us, in essence, that though he is struggling to stay alive to extend his service to Christ, what he would choose to do it if were up to him he is not saying.


Verse 23: “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”

Paul is in a bind, here. On the one hand, he would love to check out. He would love to go to heaven. He would love to leave behind the sin all around him, the suffering that he saw everywhere, and the sadness of watching others destroy their lives by wickedness.

For him, for his personal preference, to be with Christ was not only better, it was far better. So, in Paul, we see a guy who is not suicidal, but deeply spiritual. He is not interested in killing himself or in being killed, but in realizing the end of his salvation; to be like his Savior and to be with his Savior.


Verse 24: “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”

Look at what we see here. Here we see Paul, showing nothing like the prevailing sentiments of so many Southern California Christians at all. Imagine a guy who not only wants to do something, but also what he wants to do is unarguably motivated by the highest and most noble spirituality. What does Paul choose to do instead of what he prefers doing? My friends, he chose to do that which was needful for the Philippian church, not what was infinitely preferable to Paul.

Paul would love to have done something other than what he did, and no one in the world would have faulted him for wanting to go to heaven. However, don’t you see? Paul’s commitment was to his Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s ministry was to his Savior. His life was not about what he could get out of serving the Savior, but about what he could put into serving the Savior. Therefore, instead of serving himself, he served the Savior. How did the Apostle Paul, the most godly and spiritual man of his time, serve the Savior? By doing what was best for the church at Philippi. Let us apply Paul’s example to our own situation. Service to the Savior is service to the Savior’s church. For you to please your Savior, serve Him by serving Him here at Calvary Road Baptist Church. Serve Him faithfully. Serve Him loyally. Avoid the kind of church hopping done by people who claim to be Christians, but who serve neither this church nor the Savior, but only their own egos. Follow the example of Paul and serve the Savior the way he did, doing what is needful for this church’s ministry of reaching the lost.

What an amazingly disjointed society we live in. From every direction, we are bombarded with illogical messages that seek to cut us loose from our moral moorings that seek to dislodge us from our ability to spiritually discern things. Let me give you two examples of what I mean: Have you heard of the woman who was passionate about her concern for the preservation of the environment, for her crusades against tuna fishermen who unwittingly net and kill dolphins, and who protested the cutting down of our precious redwood trees in northern California because spotted owl habitat is being destroyed, but at the same time insists that every woman have the right to abortion on demand? One more for you to consider: When a man I knew long ago professed Christ on a Sunday night at church, he immediately began to think of who he could witness to. As a vault mechanic for the Bank of America, he normally did not have much opportunity to witness to folks during his workday, so he decided he would witness to his best friend, who he met every day after work. Was he surprised when his friend blew up at him for witnessing to him, saying “Don’t sit with me in a bar, with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of beer in the other hand, and tell me that I need to be saved from my sins.”

You see the inconsistency with the woman who seeks to protect dolphins and owls, but argues for the right to murder unwanted children. You see the inconsistency with a man who says he is saved trying to win a friend to Christ while committing sin before his friend’s eyes. However, do you realize there are some inconsistencies that seem to be hidden from your eyes? My message is about one of those inconsistencies. You may seek to deny the existence of this inconsistency, but the Bible speaks loudly and clearly on the subject. Your relationship to this local church is a reflection of your relationship to the Savior.

Three observations from scripture, revealing to us that if you do not by your behavior show that you love this church, you may very likely be lost:


In Acts chapter 7, we read of a man named Saul. Saul was a young scholar, a Pharisee. However, he was more than that. He was a man who hated the Lord Jesus Christ. Not that he had ever seen or met the Lord Jesus Christ in person, for there is no evidence that young Saul had. Nevertheless, he had heard of Jesus of Nazareth and was opposed to anything and everyone who followed Christ. Near as we can tell, a devout believer named Stephen had before his conversion to Christ worshiped in the synagogue of the Libertines, and sought to show his Jewish brethren that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew scriptures. Stephen’s proofs were so persuasive that attempts to refute him failed. Finally, after he delivered a particularly convincing message from God’s Word, a number of enraged Jewish men attacked Stephen and stoned him to death.[5]

Acts chapter 8 opens with Saul consenting unto Stephen’s death and Saul, fueled by his hatred and animosity for this supposed impostor Messiah named Jesus, makes havoc of the church, enters into people’s houses to throw believers in Jesus into prison, and even shows his anti Christian zeal by traveling to other cities to persecute the scattered church members. There can be no doubt that Saul had contempt for the Lord Jesus Christ, who as I said he did not know. As well, there can be no doubt that his contempt for the Savior was seen in his contempt for the Savior’s church. That is in Acts 9.3-4, where we read of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ confronting this persecutor of the church, where we see how intimate the association between the Lord Jesus Christ and the local church is:

3      And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4      And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

Did you notice what the Savior said? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” My friend, when Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church he was persecuting the Lord Jesus Christ. Why did the man show such contempt for the church? Because until this confrontation on the road to Damascus, he had had such contempt for the Lord Jesus. Saul’s attitude and behavior toward the church was a clear indication of his attitude toward the Savior he did not know. So closely does the Lord Jesus Christ identify himself with those churches that are genuine and which are His, that contempt for such churches reveals contempt for the Savior. This reminds me of the Monrovia daytime truancy ordinance issue, which adversely affected our church exactly sixteen years ago.

In connection with that, when a local politician told me in February 1997 that she would not change her mind about the newly adopted Monrovia daytime truancy ordinance, I went to the Lord in prayer and asked Him to remove her from the city council. Approximately two weeks later, she suffered a stroke, and an aneurysm, and died. I had no idea God would answer my prayer in that way.


Turn to Acts chapter 2. To refresh your memory, the Lord Jesus Christ had been crucified only seven weeks earlier. During the feast of Pentecost, the city of Jerusalem had swelled to several times its normal population with Jewish men who had come to worship in the Temple. Then, when the Holy Spirit fell on Peter and the 120 believers who had gathered to pray, and when the sound of a mighty rushing wind attracted a crowd to the Temple steps, and when the miracle of tongues guaranteed the audience’s attention, Simon Peter preached a powerful sermon in which he charged that the One they had slain by wicked hands had risen from the dead, and had shown Himself to be both Lord and Christ.

Acts 2.37, and following, describes the conviction of sin that overcame the crowd of men and of their turning to Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. What I specifically want to draw to your attention is the attitude toward the church that is seen to be a clear reflection of the attitude of these new converts toward their newfound Savior. Read Acts 2.41-47 with me:

41     Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

42     And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

43     And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.

44     And all that believed were together, and had all things common;

45     And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

46     And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,

47     Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Just as contempt toward the Savior is revealed by contempt toward His church, so commitment to the Savior is typically manifested by commitment to His church. We see it here in the book of Acts, and we see it in Hebrews 10.25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

Many today claim they have no contempt for the Savior, though they despise their church and are not faithful to it. There are also many today who claim they love the Savior, but who have no commitment to their congregation, as evidenced by their lack of faithfulness and by the absence of real support for the ministry. Such lives as these are not seen in the New Testament. At least not among the company of the redeemed. Perhaps such as these are the lukewarm referred to by the Savior, in Revelation 3.15-16:

15     I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16     So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.


“Are you trying to say that if I don’t love my church I’m probably not saved?” My friend, I am not trying to say that. That is exactly what I am saying, or rather, what the Bible shows to be true, as First John 2.19 suggests: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

Think about this with me just a little bit and you will see why this is so. A man will forever be indebted to those who bring him to the Savior, if he really was brought to the Savior. As well, the man who really is saved will appreciate the church, the congregation, the people, Jesus uses to bring him to faith and grow him in the faith. More than that, the man who really is saved, and who loves Jesus, will love the church that Jesus loves.

Is that not what we see in our text for today with Paul? Because he loved Christ, he loved the church in Philippi. When it came time to choose self-desire or service to Christ by being a blessing to the Philippian church, we clearly see what Paul did. I submit to you that Paul did what he did, not because he was an apostle, but because he was a Christian. It was because he was a saved man that he chose Christ’s church over his own preferences.

Where are you on this issue? Do you love Calvary Road Baptist Church, or do you show your contempt for Calvary Road Baptist Church by a lack of faithfulness, commitment, and willingness to serve Christ here? Do not get me wrong, you do not have to be a member of this church to get saved or to be saved. Only Jesus saves. His church does not save. However, those who are saved quickly fall in love with who Jesus loves, commit themselves to serve Him through a church of like-minded believers, and faithfully serve Him in the genuine local church.

Do you love Calvary Road Baptist Church? Are you committed to serving Christ through Calvary Road Baptist Church? Are you faithful to serve Him here? No? This strongly suggests that you are not saved and that you need to be saved, because your attitude toward your church does not reflect the attitude of Christians toward the church that we see in the Bible.

Jesus left heaven’s glory to suffer, bleed, and die for your sins. Come to Jesus for salvation from your sins, and you will find that your relationship with Calvary Road Baptist Church will take care of itself.

[1] Matthew 10.1-4 and Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, (Clarksville, TN: Bible Baptist Publications, 1986), pages 13-20.

[2] Ibid., pages 23-34

[3] Acts 7.38; 19.41

[4] 2 Corinthians 12.1-4

[5] Acts 6.9-7.60

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